Redskins Cut Larry Johnson

Steve O Speak

In a somewhat surprising move, the Washington Redskins released Larry Johnson yesterday and signed RB Chad Simpson from the Bills practice squad. For anyone who watched Johnson’s performance in the first two weeks of the season it is not that surprising to see him on his way out, but it is a bit unlike Mike Shanahan to release him so soon. There was a lot of hype surrounding the signing of Johnson this offseason, as he was supposed to be the power back to compliment Portis and help ‘put games away’. So it is refreshing to see the team admit their mistake and cut Johnson now before he can do too much damage.

For such a veteran and one time star player, Johnson has played like a rookie. In limited action in two games, Johnson is averaging about a half yard per carry this season. And in two games he has made two crucial mistakes. In the Cowboys game, late in the 4th quarter, Johnson ran out of bounds on a stretch play, instead of going down in bounds to keep the clock moving. Had he stayed in bounds it would have forced the Cowboys to call a timeout and given them less chances at the end of the game. In the Texans game at the start of the 4th quarter, after the Texans drove in for a touchdown to cut the lead to 10, Johnson screwed up again. On 1st down Johnson took the handoff and was contained, but instead of going down for a 1 yard loss, Johnson tried reversing the field and ended up losing 10 yards. The Redskins drive was stalled, and left the Texans with good field position, which they turned into 3 points. In very limited work Johnson made two BIG mistakes, that maybe didn’t directly lead to the Skins loss on Sunday or the final second win against the Cowboys, but did hurt Washington’s chances in both situations.

Considering he had a fairly forgettable preseason and training camp to go along with his early season performance, it was time to cut ties with Johnson. Interestingly enough though the team is siting the reason for Johnson’s release as something else than performance. They are saying that they needed a special team’s back for this Sunday’s game. And so that the need to sign Simpson for special teams, meant that Johnson had to be cut. I can only guess that this is just the polite way to say we don’t want Larry Johnson, because otherwise it doesn’t make sense. They have been using Devin Thomas to return kickoffs and have a few options to return punts, so they don’t want Simpson’s return ability. While Simpson can play other special team’s units, there are other options to cover punts and kicks. I think what it boils down to is they want their backup runningbacks to have more utility, something Johnson didn’t have. Not only could he not play special teams, but he was a liability in pass blocking and not a great receiver either. Undrafted rookie free agent Keiland Williams has already proven to be better in both of those areas than Johnson, as well as being big enough to be a solid option on short yardage. Simpson gives the Redskins a quicker running back option and could see some carries and catches out of the backfield.

I think Simpson’s speed is the primary reason they didn’t go with training camp wonder Ryan Torain to replace Johnson. Torain doesn’t really bring anything to the table that Portis or Williams don’t already have. Simpson has some speed and quickness, and while he’s not going to make anyone forget a Darren Sproles or Dexter McCluster, he helps give the Redskins a little different look (as well as his ability to help out with special teams). Simpson also has more game experience from his time with the Colts in 2008-2009.

Hopefully the Redskins aren’t looking to bring Johnson back, and will move forward with the young backs and give them a shot. If they don’t workout they can always address the position next year in free agency or the draft. Regardless, Johnson wasn’t worth the 3-year deal you gave him, even at the base salary and was never going to be the feature back in Washington.

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